Breaking News
More () »

2023 legislature brings new diverse lawmakers

There was substantial churn in leadership in both the House and the state Senate.

ATLANTA — The headline on this first day of the 2023 legislative session was about a much bigger than usual transition from the old to the new.

For the first time in Georgia history, a woman House Speaker, Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), called the legislature into session.  Moments later, a Democrat moved to elect Republican Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington) as House Speaker by acclamation.  

"The passing of Speaker David Ralston has left a hole in the heart of this House," Burns told lawmakers.  Longtime Speaker David Ralston died late last year.  

Monday, there was substantial churn in leadership in both the House and the state Senate – with both parties taking pains to play nice this first day.

"I think this is a great great way to start the session. I couldn’t think of a better way to begin," said Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), the new House Majority leader.

In the session’s early moments, the Capitol was one big-meet-and-greet.  New members got acquainted with each other and with older members – bringing families and some less-than-impressed children.

"I found out where the restrooms are, and I figured out where the snack machines are. So I’m pretty set," chuckled newly-seated state Rep. Esther Panitch (D-Sandy Springs). 

The newcomers also made history. In a place where white men have dominated since Georgia was founded, only one-quarter of the newcomers to the legislature were white men.  

"We had a lot of diverse people run this time as Republicans and I think that’s going to continue," said newly-seated state Rep. Soo Hong (R-Lawrenceville), who immigrated from Korea as a child. 

"Our legislative class, freshmen, we have Pakistani Americans, Nigerian Americans, Palestinian Americans and we have the largest AAPI Asian delegation. So that has been amazing," said newly seated state Rep. Farooq Mughal (D-Lawrenceville), the state's first Pakistani-American lawmaker.

Republicans still hold solid majorities in this legislature – but the demographic shift is significant.  White men now constitute fewer than half the lawmakers in the building.

"In our Democratic caucus... we have Muslims, we have Christians, we have Blacks, whites,  Asians. We look like the communities we represent, and it is a beautiful thing to see in Georgia," said Panitch, a Jewish woman. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out